What is a writer without readers? What is a blogger without people who stop by to read, comment, suggest, recommend, and encourage?
So, in gratitude to everybody who’s been visiting this blog over the months: this month on Dusted Off is dedicated to you. All through September 2010, the posts here will be connected in some way or the other to the readers of Dusted Off. The film reviews will be of films that have been recommended, given, or otherwise suggested by readers; and the lists—those ‘top tens’ I’m so fond of—will be of requests made by readers.
To begin with, this film. When I posted a review of Bhai Bahen a while back, it sparked off a discussion on N Dutta’s music—and reader Ash mentioned Gyaarah Hazaar Ladkiyaan, for which too the score had been composed by Dutta. After we’d indulged in much speculation about the film’s plot (what an intriguing title, right?!), another reader, Shalini, was kind enough to say that she had a copy, and was even more kind enough to share it. Therefore…
The credits roll to the first song of the film. The lyrics tell about, and the screen shows, nurses caring for patients, secretaries typing, telephone operators working at exchanges, and girls working in offices, schools and factories. The 11,000 girls of the title are the 11,000 working girls of Bombay, we are told: hard-working, conscientious girls who take upon themselves the task of providing for their families.
One of these has just landed herself in a great deal of trouble. Asha Premchand (Mala Sinha) is being tried in court for the murder of the manager of the Shangri La Club.
Asha pleads guilty, but has just admitted that she has no lawyer to argue her case, when Puran Chand (Bharat Bhushan), lawyer and journalist, arrives and introduces himself as Asha’s counsel. The prosecutor seems scornful of a colleague so gullible that he’ll plead a case for someone who’s obviously guilty. The judge is sceptical too. “Do you have any witnesses to prove that Asha Devi’s innocence?” he asks, and Puran Chand’s answer is dramatic: “Yes. I have 11,000 witnesses.” Not wholly accurate, but certainly dramatic.
We now go into swift and sudden flashback, to the good old days when Asha herself was one of those 11,000 working girls. We see Asha sitting at her desk at the Rationing Office, chatting with her friends (Achla Sachdev is one of them) and reading a newspaper article in the Naya Sansar (‘New World’) newspaper. The article is by the Naya Sansar’s correspondent, Puran Chand, who’s spent the last few months touring everywhere from Cambodia to Canada to Cairo, and has only recently returned. His piece in the Naya Sansar is about the working girls of Bombay.
It’s a sympathetic article, and the girls at the Rationing Office warm to the writer. So much so that Asha decides she’d like to meet the man. Fortunately, there’s a valid excuse—Puran Chand has been abroad, but in the interim his servant (never named, but would probably be Ramu Kaku; the actor’s Nazir Kashmiri) has been drawing rations. Asha sends a letter summoning Puran Chand to the office.
Puran Chand turns up at the office, meets Asha, has a minor altercation with her, and finally agrees to write a letter for the office, explaining matters and promising future toeing of the line.
In the process—what with the mess on Asha’s desk, and the papers that spill out of Puran Chand’s briefcase when he writes the letter—there’s an inadvertent mix-up. Asha’s pay envelope ends up in Puran Chand’s briefcase and one of his envelopes ends up in her bag.
Office over, Asha goes back home. This is where we meet the rest of her clan—six younger sisters, of whom the eldest, Uma (Madhavi, in her debut) is still at school, though she’s perennially donning Asha’s saris, using her lipstick and powder, and pretending to be all grown up.
The girls’ mother died years ago, and since their father passed on two years back, Asha has been the breadwinner. It’s hard going (even with giving tuitions and working at the Rationing Office, Asha only manages to scrape together Rs 200 a month). And now Asha discovers that she’s lost the month’s pay. Disaster!
—But no. Of course she guesses where it must be, and she manages to track Puran Chand to the Shangri La Club, where he’s gone for a meal. Asha meets Puran Chand and having explained things, exchanges envelopes with him.
While they’re getting to know each other better (and, over a few more meetings, inevitably falling in love), we get to know Puran Chand a bit better too.
(though for no reason that is divulged) is estranged from his millionaire father, Mool Chand (Murad) because (and I have another reader, pacifist, to thank for this clarification) Puran, as a journalist, goes about exposing the misdeeds of greedy businessmen, one of whom is Mool Chand, greedy and crooked as they come. Mool Chand spends all his time trying to somehow bully, coax, or trick Puran into returning to Mool Chand Mahal, to stay with dad. He even purchases the building in which Puran rents a flat, and evicts Puran. Puran refuses to buckle under, and his father, after some cajoling, finally manages to get Puran to agree to have lunch with him—at a club.
At the club, Mool Chand’s devious ways are further revealed: he’s also invited an old and equally wealthy pal, Lakshmi Das along with his daughter Mohana (Nadira). The two old fogies soon make themselves scarce and Mohana, who’s a chatterbox and seems a bit of an airhead, latches on to Puran.
So we have Puran in love with Asha, Asha in love with Puran, and Mohana attracted to Puran and his wealth, with Mool Chand trying to work things so he can get his son back, preferably with Mohana as bahu.
But Puran has no intentions of either returning to Mool Chand Mahal or of marrying Mohana. He doesn’t even cow down when Mool Chand purchases the Naya Sansar and tries to make Puran the editor. Instead, Puran resigns, and sets up his own small newspaper, Aazaad, which he brings out with the help of Asha and an ex-colleague from Naya Sansar.
Meanwhile, remember Asha’s precocious sister, Uma? Uma is as fond of partying as anybody else, and one day, she sneaks off to a friend’s party at the Shangri La Club. There, the manager of the club notices Uma dancing, and approaches her with an offer: he’ll give her a job as a dancer at the Shangri La, and she’ll be able to make pots of money and go places.
When Uma tells Asha, Asha flies into a rage. Good girls do not dance in clubs. How could Uma! Asha takes the Rs 100 Uma has been given as an advance, and goes and flings it back at the manager, who, undeterred, makes a pass at Asha.
But times have turned seemingly irrevocably harrowing for the Premchand girls. Shortly after, one evening when Asha is all by herself at the Aazaad office, Mool Chand arrives, and without much preamble, offers her money to let go of Puran. (Which, of course, Asha politely refuses to do, causing him to leave in a huff).
Then, one day, rationing is abolished. In one fell swoop, hundreds of women who work in rationing offices—Asha among them—lose their jobs. Now what?
And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Asha’s littlest sister Baby is kidnapped one day on her way back from school. Asha receives a ransom note, asking for Rs 5,000 to be brought to the Bassein Fort. Asha rushes off to Puran’s house to ask him for help, but he isn’t home, and in any case, the kidnapper follows her there and sends in a note telling her to keep her mouth shut or Baby will be killed.
Asha’s by now in a panic, and goes to Mool Chand to ask for a loan of Rs 5,000. This strikes me as silly; after all, if that note has put her off going to Puran, then shouldn’t she not go to Puran’s father, too? But she does go to him, and he does agree to let her have the 5K—provided she signs a note to the effect that she’s taking this money in return for breaking off all relations with Puran.
Just as Asha’s leaving with the money, Puran comes to meet his dad, who shows him the note. And Asha, clutching all that money, remains silent, leaving Puran to think her faithless.
Asha hands over the money to Baby’s kidnapper, and Baby is returned safe and sound. We also discover (as I’d suspected all along; this Mool Chand is a bad egg) that Mool Chand is the one who’d engineered Baby’s kidnapping, just to break up Asha and Puran. The henchman comes to return the Rs 5,000 to Mool Chand, who’s very pleased with himself.
And very soon, poor Asha, now desperate for a job, is reduced to taking up a position as the personal secretary of a very wealthy woman, who happens to be Lakshmi Das’s daughter, Mohana. One day Asha accompanies Mohana on a shopping spree, and Mohana drags her off to a club, where Mohana is supposed to meet her fiancé.
… who turns out to be Puran.
Poor Asha. Life is not kind to a working girl.
But how did Asha get to be in the dock? How did she—if she’s telling the truth—get to murder the manager of Shangri La? Where do those 11,000 girls fit in?
Watch. This isn’t one of those all-time greats that mustn’t be missed, but it’s a pleasant and entertaining little film, and good timepass, as they say.
By the way: if you like Mukri, he has a briefish role too, as the Premchand girls’ comic and thoroughly henpecked neighbour.
What I liked about this film:
The music! Oh, the music. N Dutta—considered the man who brought the sound of rock and roll to Bollywood—scored the music for Gyaarah Hazaar Ladkiyaan. My absolute favourite is Dil ki tamanna thhi masti mein, which has two versions, one a duet and the other a male solo in Rafi’s voice, both equally memorable tunes. Also especially lovely are Gham gaya toh gham na kar and Sab log jidhar woh hain idhar. The latter included a discovery: part of the music in the verses is pretty obviously from the famous Never on a Sunday.
Ted Lyons! I’d never have known there’d been a Ted Lyons sighting in this film, if the man himself hadn’t told me. In the flamenco (or whatever it is) that Madhavi performs at the Shangri La, the tall young man playing the guitar is Terence ‘Ted’ Lyons. Minus the Cubs, but it’s good to see him, looking so dashing, and in a closeup too.
What I didn’t like:
The scripting could’ve been much better. The story’s engaging enough, and the main theme—of the working girls of Bombay—is sufficiently unusual to make this a somewhat offbeat film. (That theme does remain somewhat superficial, but never mind). What does irk me is the negligence with which parts of the script are treated. At the end of the film, though the main problem is resolved, other subsidiary issues are left hanging in the air. Yes, I don’t expect each end to be neatly tied up, but here I get the distinct impression that someone forgot that there were X, Y and Z problems too…
Still, enjoyable enough. And the music is worth it.